Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

Synopsis

His "black dog"--that was how Winston Churchill referred to his own depression. Today, individuals with feelings of sadness and irritability are encouraged to "talk to your doctor." These have become buzz words in the aggressive promotion of wonder-drug cures since 1997, when the Food and Drug Administration changed its guidelines for the marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals.

Black Dogs and Blue Words analyzes the rhetoric surrounding depression. Kimberly K. Emmons maintains that the techniques and language of depression marketing strategies--vague words such as "worry," "irritability," and "loss of interest"--target women and young girls and encourage self-diagnosis and self-medication. Further, depression narratives and other texts encode a series of gendered messages about health and illness.

As depression and other forms of mental illness move from the medical-professional sphere into that of the consumer-public, the boundary at which distress becomes disease grows ever more encompassing, the need for remediation and treatment increasingly warranted. Black Dogs and Blue Words demonstrates the need for rhetorical reading strategies as one response to these expanding and gendered illness definitions.

Excerpt

As a “mental illness,” depression sits at the intersection of physical, cognitive, and emotional realities; it is particularly vulnerable to the means of its own articulation. Without diagnostics such as blood tests or X-ray imaging, depression becomes visible or remains invisible through the language used to describe it. That language—from pharmaceutical advertising slogans to epidemiological models of the illness’s frequency, from colloquial phrases such as “feeling the blues” to diagnostic terminology such as “psychomotor agitation or retardation”—both reflects and shapes contemporary attitudes toward health and illness, and in particular toward gendered expectations of who is vulnerable and of whose responsibility it is to maintain individual well-being. in the decade spanning the turn of the twenty-first century, public talk about depression seemed ubiquitous in the United States. Direct-to-consumer advertisements for antidepressant medications began to appear in print magazines and on the radio and television, as a result of a 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling that relaxed restrictions on this form of marketing. Peter Kramer’s best-selling book Listening to Prozac, originally published in 1993, was re-released with a new afterword in 1997. And, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s popular memoir, Prozac Nation, published in 1994, was made into a feature film starring Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs in 2001. Indeed, after the 1987 fda approval of Prozac, the first of a new class of antidepressants, depression became a much more commonly discussed illness. in his 2001 memoir/encyclopedia of depression, Andrew Solomon remarks that “everyone and his uncle Bob seemed to be getting depressed and battling depression and talking about battling depression.” This cacophony produced a sense of progress—depression was no longer a shameful secret—and it fostered a series of rhetorical forms that articulated the illness and the identities of its sufferers. Such language patterns, for example, the definitions, metaphors, stock characters, and diagnostic genres that recur . . .

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